Living up to the proclamation on the front page of the playbill (“an entertainment”), Joel Sass’ staging of Donald Margulies’ Shipwrecked! is a wildly enjoyable experience for viewers of any age. What makes this play unique is the wonderful staging that benefits from the presence of Foley artists on either side of the stage. A wide variety of sounds helps the audience recreate or re-imagine the story of Louis, and an almost alternate, parallel story begins to take shape. The visual and the aural thus mesh brilliantly and offer a superb spectacle.
As Louis, Michael Booth is funny, forceful, and also very convincing when the play requires him to turn melodramatic. Of the four actors, he is the only one who never leaves the round stage, which by the end becomes the actual island on which he is lost. Louis the storyteller, Louis the actor, Louis the entertainer—Michael Booth navigates effortlessly through the many personas he is emulating. He is particularly exceptional at meandering between the narrative voice (the story “as told by himself”), and the voice that belongs to Louis, the character in the play; he thus provides a counterpoint to himself, sometimes within the confines of a single sentence.
The actors who surround Louis are equally skilled, and they all play multiple parts. A true crowd pleaser, Bruno, a dog, played by Stephen Cartmell, steals every scene through his adept body control and facial contortions. In spite of the lack of lines, Stephen Cartmell’s physical comedy elicits a positive reaction from the crowd who appreciates the skillful execution of slapstick. Along with Stephen, the other two actors, Edwin Strout and Emily Gunyou Halaas weave seamlessly in and out of the play, also participating in the quasi-orchestra of manufactured sounds around the main stage.
The resourcefulness of the Foley artists, Paul Rutledge, Alicia M. Dansby, and Amber Davis is astonishing, as they use conventional and unconventional tools to generate noises and sounds meant to accompany the adventures of Louis. We see the artists employ percussion instruments, flutes, foil, bells, water and plungers, whistles and rattles, even pots hanging from strings. The world around Louis’ stage is in fact a stage in itself—a pandemonium of aural elements that sometimes overwhelms, but definitely entices the spectators.
The shadow puppetry design by Michael Sommers adds an extra (visual) dimension to the play that is both inventive and hilarious. Characters are reduced to caricatures, and then caricatures come to life, which means that a third diegetic level is added to the play: the performance we are watching, Louis’ recount of his story, and the shadow projections of puppets.
All the elements
of this play, the direction, the acting, the set design (also by Joel
Sass), the live onstage sound and music fit together perfectly. We are
taken back to a different time, and we are invited to fantasize and
philosophize along with the main character. Even though, as the
director declares, the tale is “at times unabashedly silly,” it is not
mere entertainment. It is also complex and ambitious. So maybe it does
not live up to its bill. Maybe it is much better.
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